I’ve been on a bit of a home improvement tear lately, doing a little nesting. One of the things on my list is to get an area rug for our bedroom, but I have some very specific needs. Since it’s in the bedroom, where we spend so much time breathing (and some of us whistling), I want to make sure it doesn’t off-gas. Also, I do a little stretching and yoga-like business on the floor in the morning so I’d like to be sure it isn’t treated with flame retardants or stain resistant chemicals.
I go into the carpet store and tell the guy what I am looking for. I can tell by the blank expression this is not going to go well, and unfortunately he does not prove me wrong. I’m talking about colors and textures and he asks if I’m “allergic or something.” I ignore the question and continue with what I was saying (bulldozer). He asks again. Sigh. No, I’m not allergic; I’m just cra-zy! I tell him that I had cancer once upon a time and now I try to limit my exposure to toxins.
If I’d been at my desk with an internet connection, this is what I would have said about off-gassing.
Off-gassing (also called out-gassing) is the slow release of gas that is trapped, frozen or absorbed in a material. Formaldehyde is a frequent culprit because it is used in many of the glues that hold household products together, the foam pads that go under the carpet, furniture made of particle board or medium density fiberboard (bits of wood pressed together with glue). Medium density fiberboard contains higher glue to wood ration than any other pressed wood product. The EPA recognizes it as the highest emitter of formaldehyde and recommends limiting exposure. They’re currently researching the topic to evaluate the extent of the risk of pressed wood products.
Formaldehyde off-gassing has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals and is suspected of causing cancer in humans. The EPA has classified it as “a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure.”
After a few more minutes at the carpet store, I decide I won’t be able to find what I’m looking for. Thus, my reign of terror continues its sweep through the world of home improvement and a few days later I pop into another store. I find a salesperson who helps me navigate to a lovely brown and tan speckled wool remnant with a wool (non-off-gassing pad). She also tells me most carpets aren’t treated with flame retardants and the off-gassing comes from some carpet pads that are bits of foam glued together.
On my way out of the store, feeling much less hysterical, a beautiful thing happens. A couple comes in with their 5 year old daughter looking for carpet made entirely of non-off-gassing recycled material. Oh gluten-free joy! (I know, not appropriate, but I do love to say it.) I’m not the only crazy one!
PS – I ended up ordering an 8’x8’ section of wool carpet and a wool pad to keep the carpet from scratching the floor. They cut the rug to size and finished the edges.
If you’re in the market for a rug here are the things to look for: (1.) a natural fiber (like wool) (2.) not treated with stain resistant chemicals (3.) a pad that isn’t made of bits of foam glued together.